It’s not unreasonable to argue that Scotland’s music scene is currently in excellent shape. As I write, Biffy have just come off of hitting number 1, Frightened Rabbit have invaded the top 10 and CHVRCHES are on the vast majority of popular ‘ones to watch’ lists. Oh aye, and Emeli Sande’s done pretty well, if you’re into the whole sales and awards thing. There are also countless bands and artists simmering away under the radar, producing some really exciting stuff. I might be biased, but I’m not sure there’s anywhere else I’d rather be. However, I don’t know if anybody in Scotland can claim to make music as unashamedly uplifting as that made by Dunfermline’s The Youth and Young
Sure, you don’t have to look far to find bands that make anthemic, exhilarating, pure beastin’ tunes. But these guys are different. That’s not to say they’re necessarily better than every other band in Scotland – jeepers, it’s only their first E.P. – but they have a sort of immediate freshness that’s eyebrow-raising in the best possible way.
Let’s get the obvious comparisons out of the way. The male/female lead vocal combo sounds a bit like the one in Of Monsters and Men. Not only are any guy and girl who sing soaring choruses together now destined to be compared to them and/or Arcade Fire, but certain harmonies and lyrics sound like they could fit on My Head Is An Animal. Perhaps the other main point of reference is first-album Mumford and Sons, before they decided that every chorus should consist of a massive banjo-wank and a couple of vague, shouted lyrics. The Youth and Young only pilfer a little from the best aspects of Mumford – the emotive strings, the cheeky bits of brass and a couple of shameless ‘woah-oh’ refrains.
So yeah, that’s a starting point. However, what really makes The Youth and Young exciting is that they clearly haven’t tried to sound like anyone, they’ve just made the music they really wanted to. It’s entirely without pretension, and entirely charming. There’s even a good old-fashioned eponymous opening track – Alice Anderson starts with a folksy, melodic, understated yet soaring intro, before Ryan McGlone roars in, with disarming sincerity, “A song for my sweetheart and here’s how it goes…” Except, when he sings it, it sounds much cooler than it looks as it’s written there. McGlone’s vocals are probably the biggest revelation on the E.P. It grabs you. Probably the biggest compliment you can give a singer is that they can take otherwise unremarkable words (not that THaY’s lyrics are unremarkable) and make them sound like they’re somehow vitally important. He turned in plenty more-than-competent vocals for People, Places, Maps; here he’s a singer. Here, he’s legitimately comparable to the likes of Scott Hutchison and Roddy Woomble.
‘Airs & Graces’ is beautiful, once you get past the disarmingly Ballroom Blitz-like drum intro. Anderson’s counterpart harmonies start to sound a little too wispy towards the end, but generally she compliments McGlone’s burr really nicely. ‘Blanket’ might be the least immediately gripping of the six tracks on offer, but lyrically it’s one of the strongest, voicing romantic self-consciousness perfectly. They hit the ‘epic’ button with just over a minute to go, and if the ensuing mish-mash of trumpets parping and reverb-laden electric guitar leads to the only brief moment you think they might have gone a little over-the-top, all fears are gone by the time the next track gets into gear. ‘Live Without a Lot’ is the clearest “single” on the E.P., doing everything an anthem should. ‘Unsung’ is the introspective ballady-type one, which occasionally drifts towards the ‘cringe zone’ (yes, that’s a deliberately cringey expression) with its “you’ll always be a hero to me” motif, but there’s just enough sincerity there to keep it afloat. Closing track ‘The Colour Upstream’ is, if you’ll pardon the vernacular, a beezer. Anderson and McGlone seem to acquire a whole new level of passion. It’s busy and exhilarating, but leaves enough space for all the separate parts to contribute effectively.
The Youth and Young completely fit in with the archetypal folky, rocky, emotional bands that seem to have gained an astonishing amount of commercial success. What makes them so impressive though, is that they sound like they’ve reached that stage completely organically. While their debut E.P. isn’t perfect – as no debut E.P. is – it’s interesting, sweet and properly uplifting.
The Youth and Young’s debut E.P. is available FOR FREE (at the time of writing) from their bandcamp page.
Watch a teaser video for the E.P. here.
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